Of all the fuel consumed in the United States from transportation, commercial airline flights make up about 9 percent which does not sound like excessive fossil fuel use. However, the effect of airplanes on the upper atmosphere contribute as much as 20 percent of the global-warming impact of U.S. transportation, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The most green attribute about air travel is its efficiency. Whereas automobiles move people on an average of 30 miles per gallon of gas, domestic flights move them 50 miles on one gallon of fuel. The numbers are even better with international flights.
Airlines like Southwest Airlines (SWA) have implemented global positioning based “required navigation performance” (RNP), resulting in more accurate flight patterns, more direct routing and specially designed landing patterns. By 2018, this should save 1.4 billion gallons of jet fuel and 14 million tons of carbon in greenhouse gas emissions. They have put in place a green filter to collect and analyze impact data, conduct an annual greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory and continually work on decreasing those impacts.
Travel by trains is 16 percent more efficient than by planes and 34 percent more efficient than travel by car, according to the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy Transportation Energy Data Book (PDF). Unfortunately, there has been no progress in the speed of U.S. travel by rail since 1930. It still takes three days to reach the West Coast by train from New York City, while trains are setting record speeds in the rest of the world. Read the article below on how train passengers can voluntarily purchase carbon offsets to further reduce their railroad travel carbon footprint through Carbonfund.org.
When the Sierra Club was questioned about its promotion of air travel to distant destinations and asked if that was not hypocritical for a group concerned about the environment, Mr. Green answered with the group’s mission statement. Sierra Club exists “to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth.” He said the Club has learned that people become more dedicated defenders of places which they have actually visited. Plane travel may be the best way to get there with an alternative that they would never be able to go at all.
Another point he makes is that when an area can economically thrive with something like sustainable tourism, it may not need to extract natural resources for income instead. Plus there are always the emission offsets which a traveler can purchase at the Sierra Club’s offset website.
Watch the video for green travel tips including the fact that daytime air travel is less polluting than nighttime air travel. Schedule daytime flights whenever possible.